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tv   Patricia Fernandez- Kelly on The Heros Fight  CSPAN  May 3, 2015 7:15pm-7:41pm EDT

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lgbt groups, and those groups have become a little bit larger more recently. they're still relatively small. if you think about the development of the lgbt movement in the united states and, in fact, in many countries from the 1960s and '70s going forward, the group was dominated by white gay men. and it wasn't until the 1980s and 1990s that there were more advantages for or opportunities for lesbians and for nonwhites to participate in movement leadership and movement activities and decide some of the priorities for the movement overall. so the fact that transgender individuals have been sort of sidelined, they're not the only group. even this very inclusive movement has followed some of the same patterns other movements have in the united states and elsewhere where white men typically led the movement. others were marginalized, and that's only changed more recently as things have moved
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forward. in thinking about transgender issues and familiarity with transgender individuals there's a similar pattern to what one would have observed 20 years ago for gay men or lesbians that not many people know a transgender individual, are familiar with the issues or familiar with the concerns of transgender commitment. therefore, it seems a little strange and alien to them. and it may make people uncomfortable. one of the big shifts that we've seen that's occurred in attitudes about lesbians and gay men has resulted in part because of popular culture depictions of gay men and lesbians. and still when transgender people are depicted in the mass media in popular culture often times they're relatively tragic figures or problem, problem individuals that don't have positive sort of presentations of trans individuals which makes it even more difficult for
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people to sort of identify with and feel comfortable about trans individuals. so until popular representations change or at least opportunities to have even hypothetical role models like has changed for lesbians and gay men, i don't think people will be as comfortable with trans individuals. i think jamie and i were particularly entered in looking at transgender issues in part because most of what has been published in this area has been more sort of narratives of individuals, narratives of activists or more polemics about transgender rights. we would want people to learn primarily that there are different priorities with the trans portion of the movement. we'd want people to understand that there are significant social science questions that can be explored by studying in this movement. and that this movement is important for the historic development of civil rights in the united states.
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>> for more information on booktv's recent visit to topeka, kansas, and the many other cities visited by our local content vehicles, go to c-span.org/localcontempt. local content. >> and booktv is on location at princeton university in princeton, new jersey, where we're interviewing professors who are also authors. we want to introduce you to patricia fernandez measure kelly who has written "the hero's fights." professor fernandez-kelly, tell us about west baltimore. >> guest: so west baltimore is one of the places that in my estimation is most important in our nation's current moment, but it's an area that surprisingly has received very little attention. i see my research, which is immersive research.
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it took me -- well, i joke around that i started writing this book under the eisenhower administration. i spent close to a decade trying to understand the unique character of poverty in the united states, and i think of this research and this book as reflecting processes that are typical of cities throughout the nation. so it is baltimore as it tells an american story. it is not just a freak accident of nature. it's not just about baltimoreans living in poverty it's about how our government and our society interacts with impoverished people disproportionate of whom happen to be african-americans. >> host: what's the population of west baltimore, what are some of the demographics? >> guest: so the neighborhoods where i conducted my research and where i was immersed are neighborhoods which are
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predominantly black where more than a third of young women in their teens have had at least one child where income levels never surpass 10-$15,000 per year and where most significantly, government institutions -- what i call limited institutions -- are ever present. i believe one of the contributions of the book is to show for the fist time extends -- for the first time the ec tent to which poverty in the united states is characterized not just by material scarcity, but also by the overwhelming presence of government officials in the lives of the poor. recently i was interviewed by a different organization and i noted as i do in the book that it is not unusual for a child born in west baltimore to be seen by a social worker before that child is seen by her or his
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mother. and my interlocutor asked what is wrong with that? well nothing particular, but it does show the beginning of a trend in which a child is as much the objected of concern of government officials -- the object of concern of government officials as it is their participants. and i'm sure you realize that is not exactly what happens to middle class families living in affluent neighborhoods. so a child born under those circumstances will soon be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, will be attending schools that are understaffed, overburdened and often underfunded, will in the early teens already have had some contact with government officials whether in the form of social workers or in the form of contractional officers. and it's not very difficult when you're a kid in these neighborhoods to be perceived as
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a potential risk to society. so that by your early 20s your life has pretty much been determined, and it has occurred very much an interaction -- in interaction with government can officials. i do give special attention in this book to something that has not been sufficiently documented but which i feel constitutes the underbelly of success in the united states, and that is the role that child protective services plays with respect to impoverished families. impoverished families are overrepresented among both accused of child abuse but i think we know now both from statistical accounts that most people who are in trouble with organizations whose mission is to protect children are people who are impoverished. and so that presents a problem because as i tried to state in
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this book, the stated mission of child protective services is often in conflict with the actual effect. and that is that the intrusive measures on the part of these limbal institutions such as child protective services interfere with the authority of parents and fracture what little authority impoverished parents have with respect to their children. >> host: professor, why did you choose west baltimore? >> guest: actually, west baltimore chose me. i was a member of faculty at johns hopkins university, and i was affiliated with the institute for policy studies at that great institution. and originally i set out to do some research in baltimore in those neighborhoods after the publication of a very important book by william julius wilson,
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bill wilson now at harvard, then at chicago. it was a book that was published in 1987 called "the truly disadvantaged." and that book argued very persuasively and very importantly that part of the problems faced by low income african-americans had to do with processes of deindustrialization and outsourcing. and i was curious to know whether that actually was happening in baltimore because as you know, baltimore was a mid-level industrial city in the 1970s. about 34,000 people were employed by bethlehem steel. and by the time i started looking into this question a much smaller number of people were employed by bethlehem steel as bethlehem steel had been curtailing operations and moving them to overseas locations. and as i try to write in this
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book, it was not very difficult to confirm what bill wilson had found in chicago. and that is that de-industrialization the closure of factories and other industrial facilities had had an especially dire effect upon african-american working families. but then something surprising happened, and that is that i found myself surrounded by lots of children children who were vivacious and lovely and had ambition before the age of 12. and that led me to become interested in the way in which children perceive their surroundings and what the actual conditions of their life were in those neighborhoods. and as i write in the introduction, you know children -- i knew them long enough and well enough that i could actually trace their life over a period of close to ten years. so that children whose hands i had held as little boys and
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girls grew up during that period to become dropout high schoolers and prostitutes and pimps by the, by 1997 when i arrived in princeton, at least two of those children in my circle had died violent deaths. and so i think part of what is contribution of this book is to look at how things happen to children living in poverty in realtime. this is not the result of statistical research, and it is not a result of impressions. many of the things that happened to the people whose lives are memorialized in this book happened to me. and for that reason, it's a very sensitive, very sensitive material. i hope that it is part of how we do science that it adds to
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knowledge production in ways that matter, but it's also a very personal narrative. >> host: professor, what do you mean by limbal agencies. >> guest: i argue that government in the united states is quite extraordinary for the reasons that i think are obvious. the framers of the constitution and other institutionings in this country -- institutions in this country had tremendous foresight. and they created institutions that rewarded mostly an immigrant population. i know we always remember we're an immigrant nation but these were the devenn adapts of european immigrants. rewards were about accumulation of property and greater access to education. and those two elements buttressed the american dream. i get teary-eyed when i think
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about that because i don't think it's just rhetoric or some kind of sentimental trope by which we manipulate people. i think it's very true, that that's what the nation did. but as a result what we got are a whole series of government institutions which deal with citizens on basis of their citizen status or as consumers. so even the most draconian of those mainstream government institutions the interim revenue service -- internal revenue service as you probably realize, is ultimately interested in only one thing: separating you from your money as a way to finance worthy initiatives in the society. the social security administration is a dream come true. those who receive social security payments know how well that institution works. and it works well because approach embedded in the procedures and the mission of those government offices is to
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treat their interlocutors as citizens or as consumers. by contrast -- and it is the main argument of book -- institutions of government that deal with impoverished people to not treat them as citizens or as consumers primarily but on basis of what i call ambivalent benevolence. and that is a mixture of pity and suspicion so that the poor are mostly understood to be potential burdens on society. and the consequence is that the procedures and ideas embedded in practices on part of those institutions violate normative con vepgs of deportment. for example, they often ask for special forms of certification including the provision of
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bodily fluids which you and i would find totally unacceptable in our transactions with government officials. this is part of a legacy which we received from england in terms of a conception in which we believe that poverty is always the result of personal or group limitations so that we always think of poverty, for example, as evidence of idleness. but in addition, because our government has been so successful in mustering human and financial resources, it is one of those instances in which what is different about poverty in the united states when you compare it to poverty in other countries is that here we have enough resources both material and human in order to interfere with the life of poor on a regular basis. and that's what liminal institutions do.
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>> host: patricia fernandez-kelly, has the poverty and the hopelessness in west baltimore been for a couple of generations, and if so, what's your solution for breaking that? >> guest: so i think part of what is important to understand the overarching argument of the book is that poverty, as i understand it in these neighborhoods and throughout the nation, is not just about material deprivation duh but about that -- but about that very special relationship between the american government and urban racially-distinct populations, you see? and so blacks have always been overrepresented among the poor. i don't need to go into whole historical account. but poverty of a different kind began occurring throughout the 20th century when a very large number of african-americans moved from the rural south to
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mid western and south eastern cities. it was the great black migration which peaked exactly with the beginning of processes of de-industrialization. so that's ooh part of -- that's part of what explains the unique quality of this journey. that blacks are left to be incorporated, for example into labor unions and remunerative employment and industry each as those -- even as those industries were beginning to close down. in addition to that and as part of the same process i make a big deal of that in this book are the levels of hostility confront ared by black internal -- confronted by black internal migrants are without precedent. there are some people out there who really think -- and i don't want to name names, but they're quite notorious, they tend to be
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economists. i'm sorry, it's a fact. they make the argument that other immigrant groups have faced hostility and exploitation and difficulties, and yet they had, they have succeeded. whereas african-americans continue to experience a large number of them great difficulties and that -- part of that has to do with context of reception. in other words, with the kinds of opportunities or absence of opportunities that those migrants faced in areas of destination. i can guarantee -- and i have the facts to support this claim -- that african-americans represent a truly exceptional case in terms of hostility they face. so what that resulted in without going into further detail is the presence throughout nation of highly segregated neighborhoods in which you have what wilson himself calls concentrated poverty. so this is different from having a few people, for example
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living in neighborhoods which are otherwise affluent and have resources. when you have a majority of people clustered in spaces in which everybody is black and everybody's poor, the dynamics of life are very, very different. for example, douglas massey -- my colleague at the office of population research -- has shown both in his book "american apartheid" and more recent material one of them climbing mount laurel. so high levels of residential segregation have been a major factor contributing to concentrated poverty. and so from the statement of the problem flows a possible solution. one of the arguments made in this book is that programs for the poor have been notoriously unsuccessful. and it pains me to say this because i'm a liberally-minded person. and so my people aren't liberals.
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but liberals have not been very good in the design of programs for the poor. you take the statement to a little bit of an extreme, i would say that poverty programs have mostly benefited designers and implementers of the program. the reason is that these programs are, by and large focused on changing the behavior of the poor, not on changing the context which creates the problem of poverty. and so if you state that, then i would begin with policies that would contribute to desegregate those residential neighborhoods. demonstration projects have shown that when you transferred impoverished people of any color into areas which are more -- that are richer in terms of available resources human as well as material and educational, those families tend to do pretty well.
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but unfortunately attempts at desegregating neighborhoods meet with tremendous resistance on part of people who really don't want poor individuals and families in their own areas. i have great hope however and believe in the values that inform this great nation that at some point we're going to have kind of the light lightbulb go on and there are going to be new policy measures aimed precisely at creating lower levels of residential segregation which i think, are -- without that i can assure you that we will never have a change in those concerns. so the kinds of people that i write about and whose lives i try to memorialize here, the book is organized around the biographies of impoverished people a partly because i believe that we never have given impoverished people the benefit that we extend to celebrities.
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and that is, they have a biography. we use the poor merely to illustrate social problems. but the folks that i tried to acknowledge in this book represent between 20 and 30 million americans. and they are almost invisible to more affluent and educated people. for them, you know, most of the work that i did for this book occurred in the '90s. the memories of people memorialized in the book take us back to at least beginning of the 20th century. and it took me a long time to write this book. and throughout that period when i worried about those materials which have meant so much to me, the one thing i didn't worry about was whether they were time sensitive, because they're not. in other words, now after the book has been published only recently, i am still in touch
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with many of the people who i knew when they were very little, and their lives basically are reproducing the same cycle of isolation and poverty that have been characteristic of their parents and grandparents. so they don't represent the majority of african-americans but they represent a very significant number of people who are disproportionately affected by surveillance, excessive levels of surveillance, containment, punishment and the overwhelming presence of the state in their life. >> host: who's big floyd? >> guest: so big floyd is a man who i met in the mid 990s -- 1990s, and big floyd was -- who is now deceased by the way -- was a man who was constantly seeking to be a good father, and that was part of what i found very moving about
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him because he was not particularly able. i contrast his own biography to the biography of a very dear, dear man in my life donald bradley wilson who represents chapter one of the book. and mr. wilson actual had come from south and had actually been able to form a middle class life. and what is interesting to me is that big floyd had very much same aspirations as mr. wilson. but one of main differences is that while mr. wilson had been able to land a job with an industrial firm, by time floyd came around, that was not possible. and so as a result the life of big floyd represents a moment in the 1990 in which an increasing number of african-american young men could not find gainful
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employment. and yet he kept on trying and trying. he was not the most able person that i've ever met but he was really trying to bring his children back together and to be a father. in the course of his life, the the most dramatic moment -- this was a man who didn't drink didn't smoke didn't do drugs. so i tell my students by those standards, he was way ahead of me because i did smoke and i did drink, although i never did drugs. the point i'm making with my students in that respect is if you're just going to use a moral yardstick in order to measure the worthiness of impoverished people well, big floyd is not going to help you because he was a pretty moral person. and he very much wanted to be a father. and so eventually he did get a job as a security guard. and in order to make sure that this would turn into a permanent job, he needed clearance from a police stati

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